(Paraphrased, with some modifications, from a comment in ‘s journal)
Prop 14 has been characterized — I’d say mischaracterized — as opening up the primary system, or allowing people to vote in primaries other than their own. It really does something much deeper: It replaced the primary / general election system with a general / runoff system. The round 1 election is now not a party matter, but rather a general election; the top two finishers meet in a November runoff.
My thoughts on where this will lead, quoted from the thread:
But the measure isn’t about allowing non-party-members to vote in party primaries; it’s a wholesale conversion of the primary / general system to a general / runoff system. It means that we no longer have a phase 1 election which has a low turnout and is dominated by party bases; an interesting open question is whether the new phase 1 election, which is the one which behaves a lot more like a many-way general election, will start to draw the same participation levels that old general elections used to pull.
It’s definitely true that this will reduce the number of minor candidates; absent a cheaper primary phase, people need to run a working general election campaign in the first phase, and fewer people will do that. For candidates who are running inside a party infrastructure, that probably increases the effective power of party bosses, since their choice of which candidate to back is now being done before a primary season which could have given a seemingly minor candidate a chance to make a visible impact and garner attention. For candidates running outside of any hope of getting party backing, this just further marginalizes them, but to be honest they weren’t ever going to be major players in the general election, so that’s a smaller change.
So what I would expect to see now is: pre-election, there’s more internal party politicking over which candidates will get party backing. The first-round elections will be dominated (as in current general elections) by people with party backing or people with sufficient independent resources to mount their own campaigns. There will be a lot more noise around these elections, and probably turnout somewhere between current primary and general numbers. In most cases we’ll probably see the top two be from the two major parties, but the big exceptions will probably be when a big-money candidate comes in and challenges the party picks; those are going to be Interesting Years.
Then we’ll have a “general election” which is really a runoff election. Not yet sure what those are going to look like, since we don’t have much experience with those in California.
There’s a Washington Post article arguing that this won’t do much to moderate California politics. I think this is actually wrong; if the power of party insiders goes up at the expense of base voters, parties have an even stronger incentive to pick a candidate who has a strong chance of both making it to the runoff and then winning in a two-person general election. Candidates on either fringe will both have less ability to influence their own parties and less ability to run on their own effectively.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve generally suspected that, in a country of this size, there are benefits to moderate governance; on the one hand this slows down reforms that I’d like, but it also slows down crazy people that I don’t like, and having seen what happens when crazy people end up in broad power, I’d say that avoiding this is a reasonable tradeoff. California has a slightly different calculus than the US as a whole; the state is traditionally a testing ground for new political ideas from both left and right, and so letting crazy people from all sides run the state is… well, the status quo. That has its merits and flaws (as seen in our lovely state budgeting process) but it does give the country a good way to field-test experimental ideas on only 1/8th of its population.
On the other hand, what better place to field-test a new election system? I say we give it a run and see what happens. Cthulhu knows, this state won’t be afraid to change it to something else if it doesn’t work out. Or even if it does.